Planning a Sweet Sixteen

My daughter will be sixteen in less than two weeks.

Let’s pause for a moment of silence.

We have talked about the big day on and off for weeks, but with the date looming over our heads now – it is decision time. For me, this decision process brings up memories of not-so-great birthdays in the past and how she has triumphed over some very dark times.

So what made the short list for her big day? Here’s her party planning ideas (all options would occur under parent supervision because we are THOSE parents):

  1. Go to San Francisco with friends –This day would involve hitting Pier 39, an art museum, shopping in Union Square and dinner. (SF is about 45 minutes from our house.)
  2. Go to SF and see a band – good possibility with this one, but she’s having trouble finding a show that would be awesome AND allows 16 year olds to attend. Oh, the burden of youth.
  3. Catered party at home with all friends – this is different than the “party at home with all friends” she has had the last couple of years in that the food would come from a restaurant rather than our local pizza place.
  4. Movie night – we might possibly be mildly addicted to Amazon Instant Video.

As I mentioned above, the last couple of years have been about having big parties at home. This was born out of many years of not having friends at all. She was the target of playground bullies – girls that called her names and made a “rule” that anyone who played with Lizzi was a freak. (Yes, I spoke with her teachers during this time. They told me those girls were not mean, cruel monsters because they drew the happy pictures currently taped to the teacher’s desk. That is a rant for another post.)  In 3rd-5th grade, I think she was invited to a total of 2 birthday parties and maybe had 3 after school play dates. In middle school, the loneliness took a turn to the dark side that involved depression and self harm.

It was a very difficult time for all of us.

Birthdays in this period were stressful for her because she couldn’t think of anyone to invite to her party. Of course, there was an option to not have one at all – but that was even more depressing.

We sought help, and found a number of resources that made a huge difference in her life. I will write about those another time, but just know that we have come out the other side stronger than I could have imagined.

In those dark days, I wondered if there would ever be light in her life again. 

But here we are, planning a Sweet Sixteen. She has so many friends now that the thought of inviting them all over for a “blow out” party seems like it might be too much noise and mess. She is leaning toward a fun day with friends that mean the most.

Whatever she decides, her dad and I will be there to celebrate this milestone and savor the smile on her face.

 This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on November 28, 2011.

Advertisements

My Organized Teenager?

This week my 15 year old daughter told me she needed an assistant.

Really? An assistant? I mean, yes she is a busy kid with sports, church, 4H and homework to fit into the few hours of daylight between the last school bell and the 5:45 am alarm. But I can’t see agreeing to a staff position.

She explained that the assistant would keep track of all the things she needed to do and  keep her motivated to complete unfinished tasks. There is so much she wants to do, but just no idea about how to get them done.

I understood that feeling. Too many projects, all of equal priority, and a need to do it all.

Figuring how to fit everything in to your life and still be happy is a trick that all women must learn. A rite of passage we do not celebrate but should. 

And then, my usually disorganized teen surprised me. She had made a list. An actual written list of these projects and things that she wanted to accomplish. 

Was that a tear stinging my eye? 

In that moment, I was a very proud momma. She had been listening. Even with the headphones surgically attached to her ears, something had made it through. She picked up on the teachings of our tribe.

We talked about her list and how to take her “To Do” list to the next level. Think about the step you have to take in order to reach the goal. 

I was thinking about her fourth grade Science Project assignment sheet. Her teacher had broken the Science Fair process into steps, about 30 of them as I recall, and kids tackled the steps one at a time. While 30 steps may seem daunting to a 9 year old, the breakdown was really straightforward and manageable. 

Any project you want to tackle can be broken down the same way. Think about the steps involved, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. No need to panic about how you will present data before deciding on a topic. 

We picked one of her goals – reconnect with old friends – and talked about a few of the steps she needed to take. Decide on a couple of people to find, search for their phone number, ask mom (me) if we have an old email address to use. She has already searched Facebook, of course. 

Summer vacation starts in less than a month and she will have time on her hands to attack the list. She is growing up fast and soon the To Do list will include selecting colleges and picking a major. 

It is nice to know that she is grasping the basics of building a full and happy life. 

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on May 5, 2011.

Say goodbye to the pink fan

The other day I had a handyman come over and replace the ceiling fan in my daughter’s room. The fan was in good working order, so he was careful with it. He placed it gently in some Styrofoam packing material and it sat in my living room for a day before finding a new home.

We have been planning to replace that fan for months. Over the summer, my girls and I took on a massive redecorating project. I had to pack up my entire home office, including the huge closet of office/craft/sewing/misc stuff and move everything to the living room so the office could be repainted. Once three walls were lavender and one was a dramatically dark blue, my 12 year old could move in and start decorating.

Once her room was empty, it was repainted for my 15 year old daughter, the artsy one. The walls in her new room are deep purple, lime green, bright cerulean blue and … wait for it… black chalkboard.  An entire wall available for friends to graffiti to their teenage hearts’ content, and believe me – that is a lot of graffiti.

With the colorful walls and the ironically black bedding, it was clear that the pink ceiling fan with flowers and butterflies was affecting the overall chi in the room.

So the fan went across the street to the young family with the little girls age 5 and 3. My husband dropped it off and there was quite a squeal from the 5 year old. “Mommy! That for my room?”

Honestly, I had no problem with this entire plan until the fan was gone. Something about watching that little girly-ness leaving forever left me a little sad. It is not like the fact that my girls are growing up was a secret. In fact, the evidence is in every corner of my life: homework that involves medieval politics, the miniature Sephora store in my hall bathroom, the bras of every size and color going through the wash each week…  

But this weekend I just had a feeling that life is shifting into fast forward.

My oldest will be 16 next month. She will not get a driver’s license on her birthday, but she will soon. In April, my “little one” will be 13. She does not have any interest in boys just yet, but she will soon. Instead of the hiding presents from Santa Claus, we have planned a family trip to New York for Christmas break that includes tickets to Wicked and lots of shopping. Last summer we visited a college out of state (my alma mater), this summer we will visit a few more.

I don’t have any regrets about being a working mom. I have been incredibly lucky to work at home for most of the last 10 years. I get a lot of time with my daughters and I am lucky that they think I am pretty ok to hang out with most of the time.  They are interesting people to talk to and I like that we can have deep conversations about life, politics and the economy.

“It’s all good,” I try to remind myself. This is what I have been working towards. But I can’t help it, there are tears in my eyes.

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on November 15, 2011.

Why the t-shirt backlash matters

The whole t-shirt controversy that took over the interwebs this week fascinated me. A shirt that so many people (including me) found offensive made it to the floor of an enormous, and usually non-controversial, retailer.

I took some time to think about why things like this bother me so much. As the mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 15, I see so many things that I want to protect them from – drugs, boys, kidnappers, illness, mean people, etc.

So why did a shirt ruffle so many feathers?

Liz at Mom 101 had a great response and, I hope, you take a few  minutes to not only read her post, but the discussion in the comments (shard of brilliance, as the link says). Mine is in there, too, and is one reason I am back here blogging after a too-long hiatus.

I like to think I am doing what I can to raise my girls to be strong women. But I can tell you, it is harder than anything I have ever done or thought about doing.

They see so much that makes them question who they are and who they are striving to be. Read the headlines on magazines while checkout at the grocery store… Diets! Flat Tummies! Better Sex! I didn’t pay much attention to them until I realized my 12 year old read every one of them.

Those are the words rattling around in her head right now, trying to figure out how it all fits together.

Ugh!

So why does a dumb t-shirt matter? It doesn’t, but it is an example of what is out there. Like “cute butt” sweat pants for tweens (at abercrombie.com) and shorts for my 15 year old that have less than a 1 inch inseam. Don’t even get me started on the big trend in transparent clothing for teens this year.

Yes, back to school shopping was “fun” for me. How about you?

On the plus side, the power of social media to affect change is once again in the spotlight. This t-shirt garnered so much attention because it was at JC Penney. A 100+ year old retailer that, frankly, is not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion. They are usually pretty conservative in their buying choices, yet a whole line of these offensive tees made it through a buying process that (I am guessing) has multiple layers of approval.

I guarantee you, right now there are meetings happening in JC Penneys about how they got it so wrong.

But the real power and the REALLY, REALLY good news is that there are 100+ other retailers that are also taking a good look at their inventory right now. They don’t want to be the next target of Social Media Backlash – and this may convince a few of them to rethink their plans.

And that would be very good thing.

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on September 2, 2011.

A Busy Mom with a Choice to Make

As a busy working mom, I have to make choices about where I spend my time. Make dinner or clean off my desk? The people that live with me prefer dinner. 

Exercise or … well almost anything else, really. I usually pick doing almost anything else. But today I chose to focus on me for just a few minutes. And it feels good.

Last week as I was reading Twitter, I followed a link from a friend to the American Cancer Society site. The headline said, “Choose You Today!” and they wanted me to make a commitment putting my health first. 

“What a nice thought, “ I thought. I mean, of course my health comes first, in theory, but in reality there are so many other things that I have to do. “I AM A BUSY WOMAN!” said the voice in my head. Maybe you have that same voice.

Of course, not taking care of my health has already impacted me. Last year I spent weeks in Physical Therapy because of hip pain. Hip Pain, really? I felt about 93 years old. Since then I have had episodes of healthy living – about a month of exercising that helped me lose 10 pounds and drop a size in jeans. 

But then life got busier, work got busier and choosing exercise was not at the top of the list. OK – exercise fell off the list completely.

Then a few weeks ago I found out my friend’s Aunt Barbie died of breast cancer. I met her last year when about 30 friends and families all went to Maui for a week. She was a vibrant and fun lady. Her cancer story is painfully short, when visiting the doctor about shortness of breath, they found a lump that had spread to her lungs and other organs. Turns out, she had felt the lump months before BUT WAS TOO BUSY to get to the doctor and figured it would go away. She was buried less than a month after that first visit. 

Yesterday I had lunch with Maria, a lovely HR person at work. I knew she had been out sick for a while but didn’t know the whole story. Turns out she had a lump in her throat that turned out to be cancer in her lymph node. She waited months to see the doctor because the company was preparing to layoff a number of people and we were making changes to the benefit package in advance of open enrollment — SHE WAS TOO BUSY. Luckily her story has a better ending, she will be starting radiation treatments soon and the prognosis is good. 

I know we all have these stories. Women we know and loved that were taken away too soon. The ACS is offering support for women who want to be proactive in cutting their cancer risk. 

As moms, we make healthy choices for our kids every day while often putting ourselves at the bottom of the list. 

So this morning I made the choice to exercise. Nothing fancy, just me in yoga pants using the dusty elliptical machine in my home office. It means I will log into work a bit later. I have a small work project that could have been completed instead, but like most things it was sitting there waiting for me anyway.

I won’t exercise everyday. I know me, I know how my schedule works. But I did exercise today. I think I will find time 2 more days this week. 

It is a little commitment, a little start. Wish me luck. 

What will you do? How will you Choose You Today?

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on June 9, 2011.

When I look in the mirror

I sat on the bed and held Becca while she cried. I smoothed her hair, made soothing sounds and told her it was ok. Inside my heart was breaking for her. Between sobs she poured out her heart.

“I know there are other kids that don’t have as much as I do. I know that I am so lucky because I had you and daddy and you love me so much. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t think I’m pretty and it makes me feel so bad.”

The awkwardness of 12. That feeling that you are the only person who doesn’t have it together. She is noticing her body for the first time, really, and noticing that it is changing. Although at this point, it hasn’t changed much. She has always been petite, always the shortest of her friends. At 12 years old she is barely 65 pounds – everything about her is small and fairylike.

Then she entered the Junior High Girls Locker Room and the self image doubts entered right behind her — along with a lot of girls farther along in the development process.

I remember those days. To be honest, I can’t say they are fully behind me. I have a great job, loving husband, sweet friends and wonderful family but the number of the scale can ruin my week. As a mom, I have tried to keep my own body issues out of the spotlight. I don’t go on crazy diets or constantly talk about losing weight. Instead I have emphasized a desire for more energy by exercising, or choosing to cut out sugar.

I really thought Becca would not fall down that rabbit hole. But there we sat on her bed, starting a new phase of our relationship. She is looking to me for emotional support. After years of saying that it’s the beauty inside that really counts, I need to help her learn feel good about her outside beauty, too.

Have you had this conversation with your daughter? What did you say?

This post was originally published on WorkingMother.com on May 18,2011.

Making time to talk to my teenager

I was making dinner while Lizzi worked on a History Project at the dining room table. She had to work there because for some reason her teacher felt that in order to plan the next presentation, the group had to use a 4 foot square piece of butcher paper folded origami style into 24 sections. While I support his big picture thinking, it was an ungainly effort to make notes in the center boxes.

I had about 45 minutes from the moment we walked through the door from Lacrosse practice until we needed to head back out, pick up her friend and head to her 4H Camp Staff meeting. I started to make dinner and think about how to outline a new plan for a project at work. The timeline was tight and I needed to get back to my laptop.

As it turned out, Lizzi had something on her mind, too.

“I thought Pastor Dan had some interesting points in his sermon yesterday, but he got some things wrong, too,” she announced.

I looked up at her then back at the tomato I was dicing and asked in a non-committal voice, “Really, like what?”

“Well, like Heaven,” she replied. She then went into an overview of how she felt our pastor had included a few inconsistencies in his Easter message. She said that some people don’t believe in God because they just weren’t raised that way and maybe, he should have explained the whole you-should-have-a-relationship-with-Jesus-thing a bit differently to accommodate those different backgrounds.

“Insightful,” I replied. She is fifteen and learning to articulate big thoughts backed with reasoned, organized arguments.

I shared what I thought he meant, but mostly I asked questions. Questions that were open enough to make her think about what she believed. When she got stuck, I helped her. Filling in the blanks with my own experience and faith while sautéing the potatoes left over from Sunday’s dinner. She had some good points and I was glad to hear that she was not only listening, but processing what she heard. Of course, time seems to move more quickly in good conversations.

We were both feeling good about what was said when we noticed the time. I loaded her dinner into a plastic bowl and grabbed a fork.

Dinner in the car, again.

A few minutes late to the staff meeting, again.

But I would not have traded it for the world.

When my girls were little they needed me close by to kiss the boo boos, tickle their toes and tuck them into bed at night. Those days are behind us, but they have been replaced with something much bigger. Not better, exactly, but different and wonderful.

My girls still need me – my thoughts, opinions and insights into the world. They need my perspective on why boys do dumb things and why girls can be nice one minute but achingly cruel the next. They need to know where I stand on the issues and that it is ok for them to form their own opinions.

I never know what topic will follow, “Mom, can we talk?” but I am  certain that whatever else is on the schedule can wait.

Originally posted on WorkingMother.com  on April 26, 2011.